On September 29, two police officers, 31-year-old Zach Moak and 35-year-old James White, were killed in a shootout in Brookhaven, Mississippi. “This is the worst day we can have in law enforcement,” said Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher in the wake of the murders.
Less than one week later, Brookhaven High School hosted Forest Hill High School for a Friday night football matchup. For one evening, it seemed as though the people of Brookhaven, reeling from the loss of their two heroes, would be able to put their grief aside and root for their Panthers. Unfortunately, this temporary escape from despair for the hundreds of Brookhaven students and families in the stands was short-lived.
During the halftime ceremony, the Forest Hill High School Band did the unthinkable: They mocked the tragedy that occurred in Brookhaven less than one week earlier. In a completely shameful display, Forest Hill band members, dressed as doctors and nurses, pointed fake AR-15 rifles at students wearing law enforcement uniforms.
Brookhaven student Sarah McDonald said, “I was sad because of what happened last weekend, and it felt like they were making fun of it.” A Brookhaven alumnus said, “I was shocked by the halftime performance just because of everything that our community is going through.”
Fortunately, the public backlash against the reprehensible halftime skit has been strong and swift.
The president of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, Walter Armstrong, said the skit was “deplorable, disgusting, and outrageous … The adults in charge here should know better.”
Gov. Phil Bryant said, “This is unacceptable in a civilized society … Someone should be held accountable.”
Of course, one would assume someone would be held accountable. How about Forest Hill High School Band Director Demetri Jones? As of this writing, Jones has been put on administrative leave, but he has yet to be fired.
Dr. Errick L. Greene, superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, said, “You have my commitment that we will investigate it fully and take additional appropriate action with respect to procedures and personnel.”
Superintendent Greene, I sure hope your “appropriate action” includes the immediate termination of all school employees who knew about, let alone planned and organized, this repulsive skit.
Unfortunately, I am not confident Greene will follow through on his commitment. Immediately after the grotesque skit became public fodder, Greene seemed to defend the act by claiming, “Based loosely on the movie, ‘John Q,’ the band’s performance depicted a hostage scene that included toy guns.”
Dr. Greene, are you serious? What in the world does a 2002 movie in which Denzel Washington plays a character who holds doctors and nurses hostage have to do with high school football? Greene’s response is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to defend a vicious halftime skit that everyone immediately recognized was meant to rub salt in Brookhaven’s raw emotional wound.
As a former high school teacher, I have witnessed my fair share of outrageous and egregious acts by students, teachers, and district officials. In fact, my former superintendent resigned due to multiple ethics violations and an FBI investigation of alleged embezzlement. However, I must say that the despicable actions of Forest Hill High School Band Director Demetri Jones, Superintendent Greene, and, to some extent, the Forest Hill students who willingly participated in this cruel skit far outweighs anything I’ve ever experienced on school grounds.
Across the board, the public school system is failing. Bullying and violence on school grounds is rampant, test scores are stagnant, and far too many teachers—and band directors, apparently—care more about social justice than academics.
The disgraceful halftime performance by the Forest Hill band is just the latest example of the awful state of the public education system. In most situations, at least in the private sector, inept institutions are held accountable.
However, the U.S. government-run school system has lacked accountability for decades. America’s public school districts have become gargantuan monopolies that face little competition and are routinely held hostage by powerful teachers unions, who use political donations and their grassroots voting efforts to control many state and federal lawmakers.
The U.S. public education system is sclerotic, does not adequately educate children, and fails to instill values and principles, let alone maintain common decency. Fortunately, there is a simple solution: We should break the government education monopoly by allowing parents to decide the best educational option for their children—whether that be public, charter, private, parochial, or a homeschool.
Expanding educational choice would force all schools (especially public schools) to operate on a level playing field, improving efficiency. Furthermore, all schools would finally be held accountable, reducing the likelihood of future deplorable actions by out-of-touch band leaders and increasing educational outcomes across the board.
Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.